William Edelen: Hebrew Mysticism


The Contrary Minister

Dr. Stanley Dean, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Miami, and editor of the book Psychiatry and Mysticism writes: “The study of mysticism should be a part of the curriculum of medical schools.” He defines mysticism as “knowledge or awareness that reaches a persons consciousness through channels other than those known to us at present.”

One of the major movements in Judaism today is a return to Hebrew Mysticism. I have chosen the following examples to indicate the strength and direction of this movement. Rabbi David Teutsch, Executive Director of the Federation of Congregations, writes: “We are moving toward a new Judaism. It will have as classical a shape when viewed a thousand years from now as biblical Judaism has now. A new, revitalized Jewish spirituality will emerge.” Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb describes the movement as experiencing “a freedom to take religion and Judaism out of its conventional forms and bring it back to the heart and soul of the earth.” It is a desire to create a new spirituality and physical unity with this planet.

Traditional Jewish services have been turned around and pointed in a new direction. Instead of sitting in orderly pews, facing East toward Jerusalem and reading from standard prayer books, the participants sit in a circle. The rationale is that, since God is within each one of us, it is better to look at your friend when you pray than to imagine an ancient Holy Temple. Liturgy and ritual have been invented and revitalized.

As one rabbi put it… “we no longer have to say prayers that stick to the roof of our mouth.”

There is more meditation on nature. A Passover is celebrated that has male-oriented references edited out and includes contemporary references. A new moon celebration each month is based on the kabbalistic women’s celebration. It is a return to the message of the 18th century Hasidic master Ba’al Shem Tov who said that God was “to be found everywhere and in everything… rejoice in that revelation.”

This renewed interest in Jewish spirituality and mysticism is perhaps best represented by Rabbi David Zeller. As a graduate psychologist he was, and is, a serious student of the work of Carl Jung. He spent years studying and making contact with every major mystical tradition. He lived with the Hopi Indians, studied in India with mystics of that tradition and studied in Israel exploring the roots of Jewish mysticism. He sees himself as a bridge between traditional Judaism and the new movement that is rediscovering the values of Hebrew mysticism.

What we have done, you see, is to make creeds out of the mystical insights of other individuals (Jesus, Paul, etc.) and then have gone even further by attempting to institutionalize their visions and revelations. Traditions, orthodoxies, creeds, dogmas, doctrines come and go, become archaic and antiquated, have their day, and cease to be. But with an individual’s personal, subjective sensing and experiencing the Mystery that saturates the entire cosmos like a sponge, the feeling of ONENESS with that Mystery will be as personal, as moving, as intense today and tomorrow as it was a thousand years ago. And from these experiences come “knowledge and awareness that reaches consciousness through channels other than those known to us at the present time.”

The experience can occur in a cathedral, or on an Alpine meadow blanketed with wild asters and blue delphinium, or gliding with fresh powder… at one and in harmony with the mountain, the wind, the trees, sky and all things… the ravens and floating white clouds… as I have done countless times on the Boundry Trail… Brundage Mountain… Idaho…

I was ONE with the universe… the universe was ONE… with me. The experience transcends language.


The opening paragraph sounds like an interesting topic (regarding mysticism as part of the curricular content for medical schools). Then, the piece continues with the Judaism topic. So now, what is “new”? Why is this the province of “Judaism”? Seems that this ancient wisdom belongs to the entire human race, and has been part of wisdom teaching from many venues over many centuries. Or is the article specifically targeting an identity group in dire need of liberation from the shackles of its own self image, in order to rejoin that “entire human race”?

    Thank you for pointing out this out. It is the strenuous effort to be separate and chosen which creates ongoing grief. The effect will change only when the cause changes. Me and mine needs to be us and ours, simple. We share a shrinking planet. We all need to learn that the right way to do this isn’t by choosing up sides to fight or pretending our genes are better than others’.
    Not expecting startling improvements soon, but openness to the mystical nature of life will certainly help…eventually.